Last Saturday, hundreds of mourners converged at the Hosanna Temple of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) in Teshie, Accra. They gathered to mourn with a family. But more importantly, they gathered to bid farewell to Mrs. Judith Brifo, a 49-year old legal practitioner with Agyabeng Akrasi & Co.
She left behind a husband, Mr. Paul Brifo. They were married for 19 years. She left behind their two children, Kwame Tubuoh Ansah Brifo, a first year student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and Akua Aduwaa Brifo of Aburi Girls Senior High School. She also left behind her mother, Madam Vida Kwapong, and a number of family members, friends, work colleagues and church members with whom she spent nearly five decades on planet earth.
To each of these persons, the name Judith Brifo evokes different memories and feelings. For me, the name reminds me of my career. She was the editor who discovered me. She encouraged me and gave me hope. She made me believe in myself. She was the first editor of a media organization to assign me to a story. And guided me to take off successfully.
I had written my second semester examination in Level 100 at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and applied to the state-owned Ghana Television (GTV) for an internship. It was in July 2007. In those days, those of us doing degree in journalism did not study anything about journalism in Level 100. For this reason, we were officially allowed to do internship at Level 300. But with the help of my lecturer, Mr. Tim Quashigah, who had worked with GBC, I applied and was given the chance by GTV to do the internship.
Before I went to GTV, some of my colleagues who had done internship there discouraged me. One of them said GTV would not give the young ones the opportunity to do anything. The old guns, they said, had hijacked newsroom so interns like me would only be useful if someone needed roasted plantain and groundnuts. I didn’t listen to them. I was determined to learn.
On my second day at GTV, Mrs. Judith Brifo, asked me to go out with a reporter, who had been working there before I joined GTV. Interns were often asked to understudy reporters for some time before they could be assigned to do stories on their own.
That assignment was at the Kanda Cluster of Schools, where the Ghana National Fire Service was educating the students on how to prevent household fires. At the event, we were asked to write our names. When the programme ended, each of us was handed an envelope and it contained GHc10. I would later learn that it is called “soli.” When we were going back to the newsroom, the reporter I had gone out with took my envelope and when we got to the newsroom, he came to the desk I was sitting and handed me GHc2. He explained that they often put it together and shared it in a certain way. It didn’t make sense to me because I saw each of us was given a separate envelope. I asked him to keep everything.
He went back and later came back to give me GHc5. I didn’t want to drag the issue so I took it. He was angry and said things to the effect that this was my first time and I wanted to be stubborn.
He was supposed to write the story. I was just an observer. While I was sitting and waiting for the day to end, a senior colleague from GIJ, Romeo Derrick Adogla, came and told me to do a report and show it to the editor on duty.
“Even though they won’t use it, just write what you saw and show it to the editor. That’s how they will get to know what you can do,” Romeo advised me.
I picked a piece of paper, and wrote a report and went shyly to give it to Auntie Judith, the name we called Mrs. Judith Brifo in the newsroom.
Not long afterward, I saw the reporter I had gone out with looking very angry, angrier than before. He passed by me muttering angrily, “When did he come here?” I thought it had something to do with me but I could not figure out what it was until the news bulletin was on.
I realised that about 80% my report made it to that story. And Auntie Judith had gone to the editor’s meeting that afternoon with my script. She told them that one of the new interns showed signs of a promising future so they should engage and encourage him. She was referring to me.
Later, she called me and advised me like a mother would her son. She encouraged me to work hard. Other editors such as Mrs. Claire Banoeng Yakugu and Mrs. Lauretta Vanderpuiye also developed interest in me.
A week later, I was sent to Akwatia to do a story on my own. I felt encouraged. Auntie Judith helped me to believe in myself. Seeing my bylines during GTV’s news bulletins gave me some fulfillment, it was something beyond my wildest imagination. And it filled my heart with a sense of pride when my family and friends in Kete-Krachi called to tell me they saw my name on TV.
“You just went to school and we are seeing you on GTV,” they would say and go ahead to say how proud they were of me.
The likes of Mrs. Judith Brifo spoke so highly of me that when my internship ended, I was still given the opportunity to go to GTV when I was on vacation. That laid a solid foundation for my journalism career.
I completed GIJ in 2010 and for three consecutive years, I was adjudged the Best TV News Reporter at the annual GJA Media Awards. This was despite the fact that I had never worked full-time in a media house. Those TV reports helped to win me the Most Promising Journalist of the Year Award in 2011 and the Journalist of the Year in 2012. I shot into the limelight and caught the eyes of my current employers.
When I left GTV, Auntie Judith did not stop showing concern and care about what I did. Even when she left to study law and left the media. From time to time, she would call to find out how I was doing, encouraged me to stay on course and work hard. She also assured me of her prayers for me because of the kind of investigative reports I was doing.
In August this year, I placed a call to her and informed her that I was getting married. The excitement at her end of the phone was genuine. When I went to her office to give her the wedding invitation, she was so happy as she introduced me to her fellow workers, including the head of her law firm.
Our last meeting was at Aburi on August 20th, when she came for the wedding. After the event, we took a photograph together and she left. When I called her later to thank her for coming and for her present, she said she was not expecting my call. She said I should enjoy my honeymoon that there would be more time for talking later.
She was happy that Pastor Mensa Otabil officiated my wedding. She said the same minister had officiated her wedding 19 years ago. I told her I would bring her daughter-in-law home for a formal visit. It would also be an opportunity to meet her son, Kwame, whom I had spoken with on phone but had not met in person.
Unfortunately, that meeting did not happen. Or rather, it happened at a different location. As fate would have it, we met without a word from Auntie Judith. We met without her ever smiling face, introducing me to her husband and Kwame and her daughter. We met at the entrance to the Hosanna Temple of the IGCG in Teshie.
Auntie Judith’s body lying in a hearse, waiting to be taken to her final resting place at the Osu Cemetery. The widower and the children stood pensively. Tears flowed ceaselessly from the eyes of families and loved ones.
All I could do was to whisper into Kwame’s ears, “May God keep you.”
To the family and friends Auntie Judith left behind, the pain that comes with such untimely deaths cannot be soothed with words. That pain and loss, especially of the close family members, can be eternal. But even as they continue to mourn and ask questions whose answers cannot be provided by mortal beings, they should celebrate her short but very impactful life. God gave them a treasure whose impact went beyond her home.
Mrs. Judith Brifo’s pastor, Rev. Simon Tinglafo, said she was one of those who saved their pastors the ordeal of having to lie at their funerals. Her life did not need any embellishment. She touched many lives and shaped careers. I cannot write the success story of my journalism career without her. And I am not alone. There cannot be a better legacy than leaving footprints in the hearts of others. Hers was a life well-lived. And we ought to celebrate her.
Sleep well, Auntie Judith. As one of your adopted children, I will miss you. But you taught me one thing that is important: to spread the love and inspire others to excel. I’ll keep the flame in the touch you handed over to me burning. And with those whose lives you touched, we hope to make the world a better place.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org